Interview: flutist Tammy Evans Yonce

December 4, 2017

Flutist Tammy Evans Yonce is an active recitalist, writer, clinician, speaker, contributor to various conferences and professional organizations, and professor at South Dakota State University (plus: she is my former classmate). Her thoughtful blog is a favorite of mine and my regular readers will recall that I have featured her posts on a number of occasions. Her debut CD will be released earlier next year—keep an eye on her website and Twitter for details.

I am always particularly amazed by her brutally busy performance schedule, and she kindly agreed to let me pick her brain about it.

How often do you perform?

I do an annual fall tour, which includes multiple performances and masterclasses. This year it was to Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Sometimes I choose these places because it’s a geographical area I want to explore or because I have friends and collaborators there. This year’s tour included collaborations with some really fantastic friends. I’ve been able to perform in 24 states so far, so that’s been fun.

I always give one on-campus recital each year but also frequently collaborate with colleagues on theirs.

Other performances include festivals, conventions, and such. I like giving 15–20 performances per year.

How do you maintain such a busy performance schedule, on top of teaching full time, having a family, etc.?

It mainly comes down to organization and clearly defined goals. And making consistent progress every day. I work in big six-month chunks, where I have goals listed in a variety of categories (performance, writing, recording, commissions, etc.). Those goals help me organize my day-to-day decisions, and they also allow me to stretch beyond what I think I’m capable of.

I have some general long-term goals but I think the nature of my work (music + academia) means that I can’t anticipate all opportunities that might arise, so I try not to be too rigid about those long-term plans. My upcoming fellowship to Israel came out of left field, for example, so I try to keep my eyes open.

I also have a really supportive husband who carries his share (plus some, probably) at home so I have some flexibility.

How does your performance schedule affect you? What benefits or drawbacks are there to a busy performance calendar?

I enjoy travel and find it invigorating. It helps me to break up my schedule, see new people and places, and be in a different environment, and it certainly helps my teaching. I enjoy collaborating with friends.

Performing frequently has effectively eliminated performance anxiety for me. There’s just not time to be nervous and I have a lot of hours banked actually on the stage. I’ve “practiced” performing so much that I can stay in the moment. Since creation and analysis are completely different processes, if I can stay in the moment I’m not worried about analyzing my performance as it happens.

Being busy might be considered a drawback for some but I feel like the things I do are a worthwhile use of my time. I don’t do things just to have something to do.

How do you maintain balance in your career and life?

I have a couple of trusted people who understand me and my goals that I check in with regularly. We make sure that we’re staying on track. Also, I don’t check work email after 5pm or on the weekends.

Do you have any self-care or stress-reduction practices?

I get regular massages. I used to see this as a luxurious indulgence but being a musician does take a physical toll. I like good food, I travel as much as I can, and I try to work with my friends whenever possible. Finally, I read a lot. I read at least 25 books a year.

You frequently commission new works. How do you connect with and select composers?

Sometimes I’m approached by composers who hear me play and have an idea of something they’d like to write. Other times there are composers I know I’d love to work with, and I approach them. Most of these connections happen either online (Twitter, usually) or at conferences and festivals. Even if I haven’t met a composer, it’s likely that I’ve seen them around online or have mutual friends, so there’s usually a connection.

Generally I work with the composer during the compositional process. We meet via Skype or FaceTime so I can try out their ideas or they send sketches as the piece progresses, so I have a good idea of what the piece is before it’s done. The composers I work with want things to work, so if something is awkward or impractical, we find a solution.

You have done some performing and commissioning with the Glissando Headjoint. How does this play into your career? Is it bringing you opportunities that you wouldn’t have otherwise? Does it cause you to be pigeonholed?

The Glissando Headjoint has been a lot of fun. I don’t think it has helped or hindered me. I see it as another item in the toolkit I can use to get the musical message across. Since there isn’t much repertoire for it, it has been fascinating to see how composers use it. They are really drawing from their own creativity instead of basing their musical decisions on existing repertoire.

When programming, how do you balance new repertoire with previously-performed works?

Big considerations are the audience, the logistics of the performing venue, and whether or not I have collaborators available.

My recitals have taken a big turn lately and are much more logistically complex. Last month’s recital featured dancers, lines of poetry projected in real time, a lithograph displayed during one piece, multiple collaborators, and a variety of equipment changes. While it was complex, I think it was effective.

I’m already planning next year’s recital, which will involve literature, readings, photographs and other visual art, and several new commissions. Once I get the plans in place, I’ll put more info on my website. I like the impact of a cohesive recital that involves more than just the ears.

Do you have any favorite flute-playing tips?

Practice. You can’t go wrong with lots of etudes and Taffanel and Gaubert.


Thanks, Tammy, for taking the time to answer some questions! Find her at:

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